Monthly Archives: June 2013
In 2011 an angry little man by the name of Will Muschamp took over as the head coach of the Florida Gators. The Gators rolled to a relatively uninspired 7-6 record that year and lost to every ranked opponent (Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina) that they played in the process.
Expectations for the program were mixed heading into the 2012 season. The 7-6 debut season was far from a source of relief for fans, but a tradition of winning was still demanded and most believed Muschamp was the man to continue that legacy. Sure enough, the Gators did a lot of winning last season.
Muschamp’s squad took down Tennessee (the Vols were comically ranked 23rd in the nation early in the season), LSU (ranked 4th at the time), South Carolina (ranked 7th at the time) and Florida State (10th in the nation). The lone setback for the Gators during the regular season: a 17-9 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. And of course, the Gators were defeated by Louisville in an ugly display at the Sugar Bowl.
When it was all said and done Florida was “back,” according to most pundits as Gainesville was once again home to a top-10 team (The Gators finished the season 9th and 10th respectively in the final AP and Coaches Poll.).
I don’t think Florida is back.
To be fair: I think Muschamp’s 2011 team was better than its win/loss record indicated. I won’t focus on that as the true objective of this article is to actually look ahead and a re-examination of 2011 is relatively meaningless. But, while I’m re-calibrating expectations for the Gators I think that is worth briefly pointing out.
Conversely to Muschamp’s debut season, I think his follow-up squad was not as good as its record. And, I would point to the following situational (and admittedly debatable) evidence to support that assertion:
- Yes, Florida defeated Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziell. But…this was A&M’s first game of the season. This was Manziell’s first outing of his collegiate career. He was the first freshman to ever win a Heisman Trophy, but this was his first time playing on a college field. And it showed in what he was allowed to do. Johnny Football was phenomenal in the game – he hit 76.7% of his passes. He didn’t turn the ball over. But his 23 completions went for just 173 yards. He didn’t look downfield, because they didn’t know he could. He accounted for 233 yards of offense – a respectable total. But in his other 12 games he averaged over 406 yards. Was this because of Florida’s defense? Maybe. Or maybe he wasn’t let loose yet.
- With ten minutes remaining in the Tennessee game the Florida Gators led by just 7 points. A 75-yard pass play and a 49 yard field goal opened that game up in the fourth quarter. This was a really bad Tennessee team – just ask Derek Dooley. Although that win came over a top-25 team, it holds little to no weight. (And for what it’s worth, I don’t give Georgia any credit for narrowly escaping with a win against Tennessee either.)
- Florida absolutely dominated South Carolina, winning 44-11. A few weeks earlier South Carolina had delivered a similarly impressive whipping to the Georgia Bulldogs. I don’t think South Carolina was truly 28 points better than Georgia. I don’t think Florida was truly 33 points better than South Carolina. I think all three teams in question were prone to very volatile performance results. Georgia was terrible against a South Carolina team that played its best ball of the season that day. South Carolina in turn was terrible against a Florida team that played its best game of the season. But if South Carolina played Florida nine more times there would not be another outcome that lopsided.
- As a Georgia fan I loved the Bulldogs’ win over the Gators. But if I’m looking at this from the outside in, Florida should be embarrassed for losing that game. If there is one fatal flaw for Georgia teams of the recent past it is the tendency to shoot themselves in the foot early on. Aaron Murray threw three interceptions in the first half (he threw a total of 10 all season). A team that was remotely opportunistic could have taken the Dawgs out early. Alabama would have. I think LSU would have. South Carolina did. Instead, Florida one-upped the Dawgs’ turnovers and in doing so breathed life into a defense that had just allowed 44 points to Tennessee, 35 points to South Carolina and 24 points to Kentucky in consecutive games.
- A 37-26 win over Florida State is nice. It’s cute even. But FSU still plays in the ACC. And FSU still struggled the following weekend against Georgia Tech (6-6 heading into the game with a black eye in the form of a 49-28 loss at home to Middle Tennessee State) in a game that meant everything – Conference Championship, BCS Bowl Bid, etc.
For every great game Florida had – the LSU game comes to mind (in addition to the Carolina game) there were a handful of, “Say whaaaat???” moments for Muschamp’s team. A 27-14 win over Bowling Green to open the season was oddly close. A 14-7 win over Missouri was almost embarrassing as a 27-20 win (off a blocked punt return, after trailing by 7 points with 1:43 to play in the game) against Louisiana-Lafayette.
And of course, there was the Sugar Bowl. Florida fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before narrowing the margin to 24-10 at the half. Louisville then went up 33-10 with 8 minutes remaining before the Gators scored two TDs (one on a kick-off return) in garbage time.
So, was Florida a good team in 2012? Yes. The Gators, in my opinion, were a top-25 team. They were not, however, a top-10 team.
The 2013 Defense
The Gators’ calling card in 2012 was their defense, and that makes sense given Muschamp’s past as a Defensive Coordinator. Unfortunately for Florida fans, a lot of that Defense is gone:
- DT Sharrif Floyd (37.5 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 Sacks, 1 FF) – 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Matt Elam (67 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FF) – 32nd overall pick in the NFL Draft
- ILB Jon Bostic (56.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) – 50th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- OLB Jelani Jenkins (injured most of the year, 24 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT) – 104th overall pick in the NFL Draft
- S Josh Evans (66 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 PBU) – 169th overall pick in the NFL Draft
In addition to those stars, Florida is losing 73.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs and 9 PBU from contributors Omar Hunter, Lerentee McCray, Earl Okine and De’Ante Saunders.
The Gators must replace production in mass – 325 tackles – and in highlights – 50 TFLs, 12 INTs. And, with the Gators taking on seven teams (Toledo, Miami, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida State) that averaged 30+ points per game (FWIW: the national average was around 28 ppg) in 2012, stops will be needed. Compounding that demand is the fact that LSU, Georgia and South Carolina – all conference foes – return starting QBs and multiple weapons.
The 2013 Offense
Florida’s offense struggled at times in 2012, hence a 26.7 point scoring average against BCS Conference opponents. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to pin some of those struggles on quarterback Jeff Driskel.
The chart below compares team points and Driskel’s yards of total offense. As you can see neither figure is remotely consistent. Driskel’s yardage is all over the place as is the team’s scoring. And yet, even within that context there still isn’t always any sign of correlation. Case in point: Driskel accounted for just 88 yards when Florida scored 44 points against South Carolina. In his next game he racked up 187 yards en route to 9 total points.
In any event, both sets of this data need to stabilize and I think that starts and ends with Driskel’s performance. That might have been an overstatement in 2012, but in 2013 it is not. What’s changed? Driskel has lost the team’s leading rusher (Mike Gillislee had 1152 rushing yards and 10 TDs, no other player had over 408 yards rushing or more than 4 Tds) and his leading receiver (Jordan Reed accounted for 34% of Driskel’s passing yards. Take away Frankie Hammond (295 yards receiving, 3 TDs) and Gillislee’s catching (159 yards, 1TD) and 1,018 passing yards and 7 TDs need to be replaced. That might not be a big deal for an Aaron Murray or a Tajh Boyd, but that leaves Driskel with just 633 yards and 5 TDs of returning production (given his 2012 passing numbers).
General 2013 Outlook
Replacing defensive stalwarts will be difficult, but driving Driskel to consistency without key weapons from 2012 will be even more challenging. Take away place kicker Caleb Sturgis (340 career points, 14 of 16 on FGs of 30+ yards in 2012) and the Gators may really struggle.
Add a difficult away game early in the season at Miami (the Hurricanes return 11 starters on offense and 9 on defense from a team that went 7-5 last season) and trips to LSU and South Carolina – both hostile environments and potentially top-10 teams – and the schedule is less than favorable given the standard SEC slate and the typical neutral site Georgia game.
The earliest set of Vegas “Over/Under” lines have been put out by 5Dimes and has the Gators pegged at 9.5 wins. My gut says take the “under” as I’m doubtful that Florida will be better than LSU, Georgia or South Carolina and I think Miami or FSU could surprise them.
In any event, a 9.5 over/under on a team that went 11-1 with one 8-point loss during the 2012 regular season seems to be indicative that I am not alone in my theory that the Gators will take a step back in 2013.
That’s all I got/
Last year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson miraculously came back from a knee injury and ran for 2,097 yards. He came up eight yards shy of the NFL’s single-season record.
But he did not run for a single yard against an SEC defense.
He torched teams like the Seattle Seahawks (182 yards), the Detroit Lions (171 yards), the Green Bay Packers (210 yards, 199 yards) and the St. Louis Rams (212 yards). But he didn’t gain a single yard against an SEC Defense in 2012.
Coincidence? Maybe. Scheduling? Probably. SEC Dominance? Definitely.
That’s all I got/
Check out the rest of the “100 Days of SEC Dominance” Countdown here.
My Fellow Georgia fans, we need to talk.
A new football season begins in a mere (67) days. Most of the us as Georgia fans would agree that there’s a lot to look forward to, including an offense that has the potential to be one of the most potent in years, a (mostly) promising new defense, and a renewed belief in the power of the Red and Black.
But with so much ahead of us, I’m afraid there might be a bit of a distraction that is making us look back, perhaps a more than we should. A bit of Bulldog Baggage that might need to be dispatched with.
Not that clinging to past glories as well as goof-ups a little too tightly has ever been a problem for us, right, my fellow ‘Dawgs?
For years, our conference rivals and regional foes have mocked us for fixating on a certain running back from Wrightsville and a miracle play at the Cocktail Party that secured our National Title bid. That happened over 30 years ago. Then there’s those of us who endured Georgia Football in the the ‘90s. These were the days of “Play Away Ray” Goff and the painfully unfulfilled potential of the Donnan years. Sometimes it seems that this lost generation of Georgia fans still carries that weight on their psyche, often deep down still unsure that we could ever be among the College Football elite. Even now. (Ask people who were in Athens in the ‘90s and they’ll likely tell you that back then dreaming big was a 8-4 season and a Carquest Bowl appearance.)
One way or the other, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve frequently been guilty of a collective preoccupation with the past, whether remembering it too fondly or too bitterly.
But now, there’s one thing hanging over our collective heads, although this time it is a single night not so long ago. It had moments of ecstasy only to end in agony. And I think it’s time address it once and for all and move on. It’s that proverbial Elephant in the Room. Or perhaps the “Elephant” that we faced on the field on that first day of December last year.
Of course I’m referring to the 2012 SEC Title Game…the true National Championship Game.
I don’t need to rehash the details too much. But everyone knows what that game meant to us. Everyone agrees that it was an important moment not only considering the stakes (a shot at a national title, which would’ve been poetic considering it would’ve been against Notre Dame, just like the last one) but also that it made us believe–finally–that we deserved to be there.
It was also a loss that cut deeper than anything I’ve ever seen. And the effects are still lingering. There are still stories out there about it despite that it was over 6 months ago. Check out any YouTube video of the game and you’ll likely find fresh comments still rolling in. From fans on all sides, too.
The fascination as well as the devastation that still remains is understandable, for both players and fans. I completely understand when Mike Bobo recently told the players that they were probably “never gonna get over it” and had to just “learn to live with it”. I get why Aaron Murray eventually stopped watching the last play video while Chris Conley has watched it repeatedly in an effort to process it all.
I have to say I get it on a personal level….I mean, it’s not like I haven’t found myself watching the last 1 minute and 51 seconds of that game over and over while listening to Steely Dan’s classic song “Deacon Blues” refer to the Crimson Tide as the “winners in the world”… (with the protagonist of the song professing to want a name when he loses…)
OK, maybe that’s just me. In fact I’m sure it is. (You don’t need to tell me how weird and nerdy that reference is, not to mention it making me sound very old–I already know!)
But there’s a difference between the players, coaches, and fans here. The players and coaches lived this game in a way we never will. They have the right to deal with things in their own way. But as for us fans, well….I think we have an obligation to put it all in proper perspective before the 2013 season starts.
In other words, Bulldog Nation, it’s time for some Tough Love.
This I will consider my final word on it all:
–We played our hearts out. We matched what was thrown at us. They just got one more lucky break than we did. Plain and simple. It could’ve easily gone the other way. Even the usually overconfident Nick Saban probably needed a drink after this one, saying that the last quarter gave him “a heart attack”.
–There was complete respect on both sides of the football, which unless it’s Bowl Season is often hard to come by in the SEC. Even now, whenever I meet a ‘Bama fan I get nothing but warm regard, and always give it right back. That this still happens as though the game was last Saturday shows that this was a truly one for the ages. We should remember to feel privileged to have been a part of it.
— The “Spike the Ball” talk has to stop. Right now. And for good. So there might have been a way stop the clock in so doing, and we might’ve had another shot at glory. But just because we might have stopped the clock does not guarantee that the next play might not have been tipped and ruined, too. It doesn’t guarantee that a turnover might not have happened. And as likely as it would’ve been, it does NOT guarantee that we would’ve gone to the title and steamrolled Notre Dame. OK, in all honesty we probably would’ve, but that’s not the point. The point is not to assume that altering one call would’ve meant everything else would’ve stayed the same. Change one thing and who knows what kind of butterfly effect it might have precipitated. The truth is we’ll never know what might have happened. Ever.
–And that is OK. It has to be.
–We almost got there. This would’ve been inconceivable three years ago. Or five years ago. Lord knows it would’ve been a pipe dream 15 years ago! The best thing that came of this is that we can now believe that we are capable of great things, that we deserve to be on the National Stage, and that we will continue to be a contender. Even when it we started showing up at SEC title games on a regular basis in the last few years, a genuine shot at a national title seemed as likely my winning The Voice. Now I believe we can make it to the ultimate College Football contest (though I don’t hold out hope for my making team Blake or team Adam any time soon…) and believing is an essential part of the journey.
So Georgia fans, I feel your pain. And your joy. Seriously, I do. But it’s all in the way that you interpret it. I see this game as the ultimate motivation, a harbinger of good things to come, a prelude for what might well be a magical season. But all the same in the past. This is one way to look at it.
Or we could just fuss and fume about firing coaches, Spiking Balls, and bemoaning how it will be another 32 years before we have prayer for another National Title. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
The choice is yours, my fellow fans….make it the right one!
Next week…..Who are the most loyal fans in the SEC? The answer may surprise you!
–Jennifer Rohner, Chief Cultural Correspondent
How to get your home burglarized:
1. Talk crap about the SEC.
As a born-and-raised North Carolinian, I can tell you that my state identifies itself with (in no particular order) NASCAR, the world’s finest barbecue, and ACC basketball. College football allegiances are widespread and variable, with North Carolina taking the cake as the most popular team, albeit to ambivalent fanfare.
With the ACC’s Grant of Rights ending talk of the SEC’s northern expansion into North Carolina and Virginia, the SEC is expanding its brand into the country’s 10th largest state by centering its network in Charlotte, NC.
“Big deal,” you say.
A state that is seen as fertile recruiting ground for Georgia (both parts of Gurshall, the LeMays), Florida (Chris Leak, Carl Johnson, Brandon Spikes, Xavier Henry), South Carolina (Melvin Ingram, who once decapitated me on a punt return in high school), Notre Dame (Elijah Hood, Kerry Neal), Cal (WTF, but Keenan Allen and a few others through a shady deal with a Greensboro high school coach), and countless others, is now the center of the ultimate publicity tool for the big, bad, dominant, S-E-C.
Oh, and the SEC doesn’t need a Grant of Rights to keep it’s members.
Giving you the business,